We had to chuckle as we re-read this article that was published in USA Today last fall. It was titled, “Boomers often rebuffed when passing down heirlooms,” and it describes – in humorous but accurate terms – the emotional disconnect between boomer parents and millennial kids when it comes to all that stuff Mom and Dad have lying around the house.
“Have you ever offered a cherished treasure to someone you love,” USA Today writes, “only to have that person react as if you were trying to give them plutonium?” If so, says the article, chances are you’re a boomer parent and “the recoiling recipient is your Millennial or Gen X child.”
Lest you think this article exaggerates, here’s another one from earlier this year that we saw on the aging-related website NextAvenue. “Sorry,” the article says. “Nobody Wants Your Parents Stuff.”
The problem, says the USAToday article, is one of priorities. Boomers have traditionally enjoyed accumulating lots of stuff, especially so-called precious heirlooms from earlier generations. How many of us have boxes stored here and there with Grandma’s china, Aunt Betty’s antique silver pitcher, or Uncle Bob’s collection of corn-cob pipes? And that’s not to mention the furniture that takes up all that space in our larger-than-average houses. By contrast, our adult kids generally don’t want to clutter their lives with all that stuff. USA Today says these younger adults, devotees of Ikea, care more about experiences than material things, and they’re used to a more “nomadic” lifestyle, moving from one cramped urban apartment to the next. This combination of priorities and limited space tends to make them highly selective when it comes to accepting “heirlooms” from the parents.
“The fact that one generation’s treasures are another generation’s trash,” writes USA Today, “is bad news indeed for stuffed-to-the-gills Boomers.” Those of us in the boomer age range between 50+ and 70+ are beginning to worry about what will become of all those so-called precious possessions should we choose to downsize, which many boomers say they plan to do. “The big unanswerable question,” says USA Today, “is: What will ultimately happen to all the unwanted stuff?”
This may seem like a trivial issue, but it’s not. “Many boomers and Gen X’ers charged with disposing the family heirlooms, it seems, are unprepared for the reality and unwilling to face it,” says the NextAvenue article. The piece quotes Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, who says, “It’s the biggest challenge our members have and it’s getting worse.” The NextAvenue article goes on to list what it calls “8 Tips for Home Unfurnishing” – an entertaining and helpful place to start getting rid of all that stuff. (The most relevant tip is #8: Prepare for disappointment.)
At AgingOptions, we talk with clients and radio listeners all the time about aging in place – making their present home suitable for their needs as they grow older. Some homes can be made age-friendly rather easily, while others will require much more expensive work to widen doorways and adjust counter heights and do all the other modifications that will accommodate us as we age. But as you consider modifying your house, we suggest you should also think about downsizing your possessions. It does a great disservice to our kids to hang onto all our stuff year after year. We can’t count the number of times we’ve heard from adults whose parents have passed away, and now the kids are forced to deal with all the clutter and all the stuff Mom or Dad couldn’t bear to part with. Do yourself and your kids a favor and undertake the “purging process” now, while you’re still healthy enough to do it.
Are all Boomers into their stuff and all Millennials resolutely anti-materialistic? Not necessarily, says USA Today. There are certainly “Boomer minimalists, Millennial sentimentalists and Gen-X pack rats.” And one glance on eBay or Craigslist will show just how big the market is for collectibles. Nevertheless, the article points out, “the move among young folks toward a simpler look is well documented — and has larger implications, for the planet, furniture stores, junk removal services and auction houses.” Maybe it has implications for you, too. If so, now would be a good time to have an honest conversation with your adult children – and if they don’t want all your precious possessions, you’ll have some tough decisions to make. But don’t let your kids’ lack of interest hurt your feelings: it’s part of a societal trend.
So as you contemplate retirement, are you starting to consider your housing options? We encourage you to get some good advice now to help you get ready for whatever your housing choices are in the future. We also want to remind you that retirement planning demands a holistic approach, one that includes much more than where you’ll live. What about financial planning? What legal preparations should you make to secure your estate and provide for your care as you age? Have you prepared yourself with the right medical insurance? Is your family fully informed of your desires and will they fulfill your wishes in retirement? All these become part of a retirement plan we call a LifePlan, a truly comprehensive plan that provides you with a firm foundation on which to build the retirement you’ve dreamed of.
There’s a simple way to explore the LifePlanning process further: spend a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. During these information-packed sessions you’ll discover how to protect your assets in retirement and avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones – and you’ll be well on your way to creating a LifePlan of your own. For dates, times and online registration, click here, or call us during the week. Bring your questions, too! We’ll look forward to seeing you soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you.
(originally reported at www.usatoday.com and www.nextavenue.org)